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Harry Nier – Gone But Not Forgotten…At Least By Those Who Knew Him

June 12, 2015
Harry Nier - third on the left with the sign

September, 1979 – Harry Nier – third on the left with the sign “No rate hikes, cut the cost of utilities.” Immediately behind him, part hidden, Elaine Schell; behind her Dick Ayre. In front of Harry, Danny Graul, leading the pack with the sign “PSC stockholders get profits, PSC users get fuel cost adjustments” is Jack Galvin.

The news came to me this evening that Harry Nier, Denver lawyer, a lifelong socialist, secular Jew, with a particular love and knowledge of Fidel Castro’s Cuba, died this past Monday. I do not know the details beyond the fact that Harry suffered from Alzheimers for these past 4-5 years and that the condition overwhelmed him in the end. I believe that he was about 90 years of age.

The last time I saw Harry was at a Middle Eastern restaurant about five years ago on South Colorado Blvd, known to locals as “The Gaza Strip.” I was coming out with hummus and he and a friend were entering. It had been years since I’d seen him; but he recognized me and I, him; We spoke briefly; I made one of those mental notes to track him down, see him again, but as often happens, never got round to it and he died.

I especially thought of Harry when the Obama Administration announced it was going to end the more than half century economic blockade against Cuba, which Harry had worked so hard and persistently for all of his life. I wanted to drink a toast with him, to congratulate him on his commitment to improving U.S. Cuban relations. If I remember correctly, Harry Nier visited Cuba more than 20 times, during all those years when it was technically illegal to do so. On several occasions Harry met with and had long discussions with Cuban leader, Fidel Castro whom he knew personally.

I don’t know that Harry Nier ever joined this or that left group, but he was, even as a successful and prosperous lawyer, a life long socialist with a genuine commitment to poor and working class people. Harry Nier was born in New York City on August 13, 1926. At the age of six months his family came to Denver. He went to East High School and then to the University of Colorado in Boulder and then from University of Colorado Law School in 1950. Nier was a part of a group of extraordinary lawyers that included Rudy Schware, Gene Dykeman,Walter Gerash in the 1950s. Together they defended those Colorado Communists and leftists called before the House of Un-american Activities Committee; SDS, the Crusade For Justice, Vietnam draft resisters, etc. this they did successfully, virtually for free and Harry, as well as the others, stayed in Denver and built his practice and his life here.

I first met Harry in the summer of 1970.

I had been arrested, along with life-long friend and associate Jay Jurie as a part of what was then referred to as the Boulder 17. We were a part of a group on the University of Colorado Boulder campus protesting an ROTC drill. Most of us, myself included were arrested and charged at first with felonies. I went to jail. It was then that I met Harry. As a part of the National Lawyers’ Guild he represented me gratis, got me and others, out of jail on bail and through his work – along with that of Gene Dykeman – got the felony charges first reduced and the thrown out by a Boulder Federal Judge. At the same time the University of Colorado lodged charges against me as well which could have led to my expulsion from graduate school. Again, Harry Nier successfully represented me and won the case. I never paid him a penny for that legal representation.

During the years I knew and worked with him, Harry bounced around between this and that left group, never, at least to my knowledge, joining any – working with all. He belonged, identified with all of us, gave us support and never held back with his criticisms of what he understood to be our shortcomings I didn’t know much about his personal life although I saw him often enough, but I don’t believe he had a lifetime partner or was married.For a number of years he worked with the Denver International Film Festival to bring Cuban films to Denver.

I hear that Harry wants his ashes spread on Mt. Elbert in Colorado – which he climbed not once but frequently – and in Cuba. Harry…rest in peace. I regret that those of us who knew you and in spite of all your damned quirkiness – respected and loved you…couldn’t see you off on your journey to wherever.

I will add to this obituary as I collect information about Harry’s life. Yours was a lifetime of commitment to others,, a rare bird indeed. Harry Nier, Rudy Schware, Gene Dykeman, Walter Gerash…the likes of these in the Colorado legal profession are rare these days.,.and were then.

Harry rest in peace.

Rob P.

______________________

In order to help pay his way through law school, Harry Nier drove a cab...and thus was part of a tradition of radical Denverites who did a stint at the cab company. This is a copy of his cab driver's license. It is dated 1953

In order to help pay his way through law school, Harry Nier drove a cab…and thus was part of a tradition of radical Denverites who did a stint at the cab company. This is a copy of his cab driver’s license. It is dated 1953

This from Allan Hafley:

Richard Roth was kind enough to send me the link to Rob Prince’s blog concerning the death of Harry Nier.

Many of you knew Harry or knew of him and I thought you might like to see the tribute Rob wrote.

Harry and the other lawyers named in Rob’s piece were “Movement Lawyers” in the finest sense of the word and helped countless individuals and organizations.

I first met Harry in the fall of 1967. Shortly after the Day of Draft Resistance on 10/16/1967 I was indicted by the Feds for non-possession of my draft card. Harry and Gene Dykeman took on my case, filed a 75 page brief challenging the legality of the draft and the Vietnam War.

Within weeks the Department of Justice decided they did not want to argue the case and dropped the charges.

As Rob mentions Harry was passionate about the Cuban Revolution, loved to talk politics and to challenge us about what we doing and advocating. Because we were in Boulder and Harry was in Denver I did not really see him that often but considered him a friend who went out of his way to help when most people thought we should be imprisoned or worse.

When I Googled Harry’s name a batch of FBI documents came up from the Harold Weisberg Archive (the file was too large to attach to this email) . Weisberg was one of the early critics of the Warren Report and wrote a number of books on the JFK assassination. At the time of JFK’s
murder Harry was the head of Fair Play for Cuba in Colorado. The gist of the heavily redacted reports is that the FBI was trying to prove that Harry knew Lee Harvey Oswald. Of course it was all garbage, another attempt by the FBI to smear and/or indict innocent citizens.

As the years roll on it is easy to forget all the people who stepped forward to help in our hour of need.

Harry was one of the good guys.

Allan Haifley

_____________________________

Harry Nier, an avid mountain climber, here a top of Pico Turquino, Cuba's highest peak.

Harry Nier, an avid mountain climber, here a top a Cuban mountain.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. June 13, 2015 10:18 am

    Reblogged this on denniscomments and commented:
    I met Harry as an undergrad. When I started my law practice, he was extremely helpful along with Rudy Schware, Gene Dykman and Walt Gerash. Before they tore it down, I used to have lunch with Harry and Gene at least weekly at the Cosmopolitan Hotel restaurant. He was a passionate advisor to the fair play for Cuba activists in the 60’s I will miss a dear friend.

    • marie head chase permalink
      October 15, 2015 10:26 am

      I was a waitress at the Cosmopolitan during that era, met Harry there and enjoyed many a long chat with him, that became years of off-and-on collaboration. I hadn’t seen him since 2007, when he was so happy to hear that I was moving to Cuba. A life well lived

      • October 15, 2015 1:29 pm

        I used to lunch at Cosmo with Harry and Gene Dejkman until the Cosmo was torn down

        • October 15, 2015 5:08 pm

          Do you know if Dejkman is still among us and if so where he might be

      • September 17, 2016 8:42 am

        Marie, I just noticed your note about Harry. I wondered how you knew Harry. It was good to see you in November. Hope to see you again. Em

  2. Thomas M. Rauch permalink
    June 13, 2015 4:44 pm

    Rob,

    Thanks very much for sending the information about Harry Nier’s life and death. He was a remarkable person and so generous and committed in his work for justice, human rights, and freedom. I’m grateful for knowing him and for his life and work.

    The Sisters of Loretto are very inclusive and would probably welcome you as a co-member, not only for your personal character and dedication to the same values they have, but also because you would be their first former-Communist and secular Jew as a co-member. Full speed ahead!

    Greetings to Nancy and peace and all blessings to both of you.

    Tom

  3. June 24, 2015 9:27 am

    Over ten years ago I met Harry in person for the first time. He was attending a lawyer’s conference in Cuba. He introduced me to the Cuban interpreter for that event who has been working with me as a translator ever since. Harry had been a supporter of Cuba and its revolution for his entire life. He introduced me also a lively Argentine activist Maria Montelibre, who also did some translation from Spanish to English for the CubaNews list which is about to begin its sixteenth year.

    CubaNews provides facts and analysis about Cuba and the island’s relations with the United States, from a strongly supportive viewpoint, but doesn’t omit to mention some of the problems there. Washington’s blockade of the island, imposed when the country refused to accept continued US domination, has been in place for over half a century, but has still not been able to overthrow the island’s revolutionary government. The Obama administration’s steps toward normalization of US-Cuba relations are to be welcomed, but their goal is the same as their predecessors: overthrowing the Cuban government, but trying to use the carrot instead of the stick. Harry clearly understood that.

    He had been ill and out of touch for some time. I’m glad that Mike and Emily Coffey who kept Harry in the loop about developments with Cuba when he was no longer able to do that himself, and for keeping me abreast of things with Harry personally as well.

    Harry’s e-mail address reflected his passionate interest in Cuba: yankeefidel

    Thanks to Rob Prince for posting this tribute.

    Walter Lippmann
    Los Angeles, California
    https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/CubaNews/conversations/messages

  4. Bill Winschief permalink
    June 24, 2015 4:10 pm

    Emily Coffee was kind enough to contact me yesterday with news of Harry’s death. I did not know Harry Nier all that well but have a splendid memory of him over the 3 weeks that we spent together in 2006 at a table for solo passengers on the “M.V. Marco Polo” headed for Antarctica, the Falkland Islands & ports in Uruguay, Argentina & Brazil. Appropriately perhaps, the ship had once flown the hammer & sickle on its funnel, initially designed as a North Atlantic passenger vessel in service for the USSR on long voyages between Leningrad & Montreal. Over the many long dinners at sea and also often on excursions ashore as well, I came to really enjoy the time I spent with Harry Nier, hearing tales of his many visits to Cuba & his friendship with Fidel Castro + his keen interest in Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela at the time & bitter foe of President Bush. Harry was so left of center & outspoken in his views that we lost at least one of the fellow-passengers at our table, a steadfast Republican woman who bolted for the company of more moderate types on board. One morning, prior to a shore excursion in Antarctica, Harry joined me at a table for 2 following the breakfast buffet line and I recall asking Harry about his next travel destination. Harry paused and said that his health had recently been a very serious concern and that he was “living on borrowed time”. Having recently lost my only brother, I looked at Harry and responded, “so are we all.” We stayed in touch by posted mail following the voyage but at some point, the address I’d been using was no longer valid and we drifted apart forever. However, I have thought of Harry Nier many times since our time together in Antarctica ^ South America 9 years ago. As I learn more about Harry’s life, I immediately was reminded of an old Chicago friend, Studs Terkel and think that the two would have had a wonderful time together. Goodbye Harry….

  5. brother jeff permalink
    June 29, 2015 2:44 am

    A truly great man, an activist and an example of dedication to justice. Harry will be missed. I’m glad he passed my way. Rest in peace.

  6. Patricia Drabant, a/k/a Patricia Drabant-Bancker permalink
    August 17, 2016 4:37 pm

    My husband and I knew Harry in the 60s while living in Denver and Aspen. He used to come to Mexico with us and then take a flight from there to Cuba. The last time I spoke with him I didn’t know he was not well. He was SO special and my memories of him are the fondest, as would my husband’s be had he not predeceased him. Love you Harry – rest in peace!!!!

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